Editorial: The common thread through all the Trump administration’s immigration policies is cruelty

President Trump at Cincinnati rally
President Trump’s anti-immigrant policies carry an undercurrent of cruelty
(Associated Press)

Two core elements lie at the heart of nearly all of the Trump administration’s policies and actions governing immigrants: A strong desire to limit new residents from abroad, and a blind disregard for whatever cruelty might be inflicted in service of that goal.

The most recent example, from which the administration seems to be stepping back, was a plan to end a program that deferred deportation for migrants suffering from debilitating illness, including some who are taking part in clinical trials that could benefit others suffering from the same maladies. In one case highlighted by the New York Times, the government declined to renew a two-year deferral for Maria Isabel Bueso, a now 24-year-old Californian suffering from a severe and rare genetic disorder. Doctors had invited Bueso to the U.S. `17 years ago to take part in experimental treatments for the disease, which she had been told would probably have killed her before she reached her teens. No matter that her doctors in the Bay Area warned that returning Bueso to Guatemala, where the treatments keeping her alive are not available, would be a death sentence.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service said Monday it is reconsidering its decision to end the program, but the lack of specificity about its intentions — and this administration’s history of swiftly contradicting its own statements — suggests the public shouldn’t put much stock in the announcement. The nation has learned to not listen to what the government says, but watch what it does.


And it has been doing horrific things. In fact, one would have hoped that the disastrous decision to pull children away from their migrant parents for the “crime” of seeking asylum would have been the administration’s low point. But now we see that it is willing to go even lower, including consigning the ill to death simply because Stephen Miller and the rest of the nationalist bugs whispering in the president’s ear don’t want them here.

It’s the same animus behind the president’s effort to open up federal family detention centers to hold arriving families until their fate gets decided in immigration court, where the backlog exceeds 1 million cases (including several hundred thousand previously closed cases that are being reopened), and where cases have been pending on average for 705 days — a month short of two years. The administration wants these lengthy detentions to send a message to other families in Central America contemplating an attempt to find sanctuary here: Don’t bother.

The administration is willing to do this despite psychologists’ warnings that incarcerating children even for short periods of time, with or without their parents, can lead to mental health issues. And attending to the mental health needs of migrant children hasn’t exactly been the administration’s strong suit; a recent report by the inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services concluded that the government has failed to address mental health issues faced by minors who arrived unaccompanied after fleeing violence, or who were forcibly separated from their parents at the border. Yes, migrant parents can simply give up and agree to forego asylum and return to the deadly environments they are escaping. But what rational parent would do that? These policies force families into situations in which there are no good choices. And there are workable alternatives to detention that are far less costly.

Then there’s the “remain in Mexico” policy under which the Trump administration has sent at least 35,000 people with a legal right to seek asylum in the U.S. — mostly Central Americans — to wait in a completely separate country (and in some incredibly dangerous conditions) while their applications proceed. The reason? Again, to deter others who might exercise their congressionally granted right to ask the U.S. government for protection.

The administration also has adopted a new “public charge” rule (under legal challenge) denying green cards to immigrants living legally in the United States if they use or are deemed likely by the government to use certain safety net programs for more than 12 months within a 36-month period. Confusion over how that new policy works has led countless migrants to drop out of programs they are entitled to participate in, including those providing food and housing aid, for fear of jeopardizing their legal status. So the government’s response to people who might need a temporary bit of help is to slap — or scare — them away.

The level of cruelty inflicted by this administration in service of its anti-immigrant agenda is unconscionable and immoral.